CHICAGO – More than 7,000 Illinois residents signed up for private insurance coverage in the first two months of the troubled HealthCare.gov website, less than 30 percent of the federal government's projection for the state's enrollment at this point of the rollout.
Enrollment figures released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services showed the pace picking up in the state and nationally; 364,682 Americans signed up for private coverage under President Barack Obama's new federal health law, including 7,043 in Illinois.
In October, when the website was barely working, only 1,370 Illinois residents managed to select a health plan and sign up. The new figures mean an additional 5,673 people made it through the process in November as the government scrambled to make hundreds of website repairs.
Catching up on enrollment will be challenging. The target for Illinois was to have 24,310 people signed up by the end of November, according to an internal federal memo first obtained by The Associated Press.
The state's 1,500 enrollment counselors would each need to successfully sign up more than one person every single day of this month — about nine people each week — to catch up with what had originally been projected before the website failures: 67,210 Illinois residents signed up by the end of December.
The administration had set a goal of signing up 7 million people by the end of open enrollment season March 31.
State officials said there is still plenty of time for people to enroll.
"These numbers show the federal website has improved but there is still more work to do," Jennifer Koehler, the chief of the Illinois insurance marketplace, said in an email. "A lot of people still need coverage and have been exploring their options on Getcoveredillinois.gov. We can see this from the traffic on the website and from the reports we are getting from our statewide network of community partners, who are helping consumers sort through their options and enroll every day."
Online insurance shopping is a key part of the nation's health care law. Illinois is relying on the federal website because the Legislature didn't approve a state-run marketplace.
The federal site serving 36 states, including Illinois, continues to have issues. Just Tuesday there was an extended maintenance outage. Some states running their own websites are also having problems, but in general, the state-run sites are performing better than the federal site.
Consumers face a Dec. 23 enrollment deadline if they want to have coverage starting Jan. 1. Enrollment continues through the end of March. The health law requires nearly every American to have insurance coverage or pay a tax penalty of $95 or 1 percent of income, whichever is higher.
The new enrollment report said 67,036 Illinoisans have submitted applications on the new insurance marketplace since Oct. 1. They were applying for coverage on behalf of 124,252 people — for example, themselves, their spouses and children.
Of those Illinois residents deemed eligible to buy insurance on the marketplace, about 40 percent qualified for financial assistance. Federal tax credits will make premiums more affordable for households earning between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty line. That's $11,490 to $45,960 for an individual, $23,550 to $94,200 for a family of four.
The health law also expands Medicaid in states that have chosen to do so. In Illinois, Medicaid enrollment has been mostly handled by the state and has been far more successful than the private insurance signups. Illinois has received more than 206,000 Medicaid applications on its website, through an early expansion of Medicaid in Cook County and through an "express enrollment" program for people who qualify for food stamps.